Kerry Alys Robinson

Recovery and reform in the church

February 20, 2019

Responding to the sexual abuse crisis and advocating for the role of lay leadership, and, frankly, especially women in the church has been a central component of my work on behalf of the church all of my adult life.

I was in my 20s, newly elected to the board of trustees of the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, when in 1995 the Archdiocese of Santa Fe requested $500,000 from our family foundation to help settle lawsuits stemming from the unconscionable sexual abuse of children by clergy and to provide counseling for victims.

Depending on one’s viewpoint, I was either terribly naive or prescient. I wanted to deny the grant and help the archbishop sell property to make recompense to the victims and be fully transparent about what had happened. If the result was to begin anew with celebrating Mass in a field, so be it.

In 2002, I was working as the director of development at St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale with Father Bob Beloin. With the Boston Globe’s spotlight on clergy sexual abuse, we were convinced we had a moral responsibility to be part of the solution.

We planned and hosted a three-day conference titled “Governance, Accountability and the Future of the Catholic Church.” Five hundred people attended, along with 30 national speakers. The material was wrenching but everyone left hopeful, resolute that this was our church and we were not abandoning it but staying and calling it to greater levels of accountability, transparency, justice and holiness.

Three months later, I met Geoff Boisi who recruited me to be the founding executive director of the Leadership Roundtable, a network of Catholic leaders, ordained, religious and lay, from myriad sectors, who collectively contribute their experience, financial acumen and problem-solving expertise to advance contemporary best managerial practices in the church.

With uncommon fidelity to purpose, we earned the trust and confidence of church leaders, particularly the bishops in the United States, so that in June 2018, embroiled in a new wave of scandal, 50 dioceses contacted us for help.

After convening thought-leaders and harnessing expertise from survivors, cardinals, CEOs, theologians, canonists, college presidents, military generals, philanthropists, abuse specialists and others, here are some particularly salient conclusions:

1.      The church is experiencing twin crises — sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults and a crisis of distrust of church leadership — which requires twin responses, recovery and reform.

2.     Survivors must be a central part of all deliberations, solutions and plans. Listening to survivors and providing and ensuring justice for those who have been harmed is paramount.

3.     Restoring trust requires cultural change based on transparency, accountability, competency and justice.

4.     Governance structures ensuring co-responsibility of ordained and lay leaders with exceptional managerial expertise and acumen must be created.

5.     The coordinated release of names of credibly accused diocesan and religious priests with concomitant financial reporting is necessary.

6.     Be unequivocal that bishops will not be exempted from the Dallas Charter and will be held accountable by an independent, predominantly lay review body.

7.     Conduct a thorough review of any clericalism embedded in the Code of Canon Law and commit to making changes.

8.     Supplement the 2011 John Jay study of the causes and contexts of the crisis in the United States, with one that examines the misuse and abuse of power among church leaders.

9.     Review and overhaul the manner in which bishops are selected, assigned and elevated.

10.   Commit to ensuring that wherever decisions are made in the life of the church, women are present to help make those decisions.

11.    Invest in a human resource system that includes effective selection, training, assignment, evaluation, compensation and continuing education for ordained and lay leaders.

12.   Reform seminary formation.

13.   Institute governing boards composed of ordained, religious and lay leaders to which bishops’ conferences are accountable, as Catholic colleges, hospitals and charities are.

There is more, with much greater detail. Cultural change is difficult. But difficult does not mean impossible.




  • clergy sexual abuse